Portland's largest bookstore has released its new statement further explaining the backhanded reason why the company decided to sell Andy Ngo's new book exposing Antifa online, but not in stores.
In the "interest of fostering thoughtful dialogue and illuminating American discourse as it stands," Powell's Books allows "both righteous and deplorable books" to share its virtual and physical shelves.
Powell's Books president and owner Emily Powell addressed the company's "Commitment to Free Speech" via press release. She explained that while some of its inventory is "hand-selected" and "hand-promoted," Ngo's Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy arrived via long-term and respected publisher Hachette Book Group.
"We list the majority of their catalogue on Powells.com automatically," she stated, "as do many other independent and larger retailers. We have a similar arrangement with other publishers."
Powell then cited hundreds of emails, calls, and social media comments received calling for the removal of Unmasked from the bookstore's website. Demonstrations outside the Burnside location forced the store's closure to ensure the safety of employees, neighbors, and customers.
"If we need to remain closed, we will not hesitate to do so," Powell stipulated. Another line was later added: "We are monitoring the situation daily and we will reopen when it is safe to do so. Our other locations and website remain open."
Then Powell offered additional context about the company's decision to allow Ngo's book to remain online.
Powell stressed that since the first published texts, there have been calls to disown certain prints. The company has long experienced firsthand these calls and the threats that accompany, Powell emphasized.
"Until recently, the threats were from those who objected that we carried books written by authors we respected or subjects we supported," Powell continued. "The threats were real but we could feel virtuous—we were bringing the written word to the light of day. We could feel proud of our choices, even when the choices created conflict."
However, Powell insisted that the "current fight does not feel virtuous."
"It feels ugly and sickening to give any air to writing that could cause such deep pain to members of our community," Powell wrote, maintaining that the company has always sold books that many would reject.
She contended that Powell's Books has "fought for decades" for the "right of a book to stand on its own." Doing so is one of the company's "core values as booksellers," Powell declared.
"In our history we have sold many copies of books we find objectionable. We do that in spite of all the reasons not to, because we believe that making?the published word available is an important and crucial step in shedding light on the dark corners of the public discourse," Powell argued.
She described this initiative as a "leap of faith into the vortex of the power of the written word and our fellow citizens to make sense of it."
"That leap of faith is inextricably woven into our existence as Powell's: faith in our customers is what first propelled us from a small corner store into who we are today," Powell expressed, recognizing that "not every reader has good intentions" or "will arrive at a writer’s intended destination."
Powell persisted that the company believes that faith must extend to the brand's community of readers and that "offering the printed word in all its beauty and gore" will ultimately move Powell's Books forward.
"As my father says, if your principles are only your principles sometimes, they’re not principles at all," Powell quoted.
Under the Frequently Asked Questions section, the company further answered why bookselling is an "act of faith" in addition to a "commercial enterprise" exclusive from other business practices that choose not to sell certain products based on varieties of reasons.
"As booksellers we trust that people will continue to value the labor, artistry, and tempo of the written word in a digital era; and we trust that readers will make educated decisions about the information they come across in the books they buy," the memo read, acknowledging very few places left in America today where the "free and peaceable exchange of opposing ideas is practiced."
In the "interest of fostering thoughtful dialogue and illuminating American discourse as it stands"—as opposed to adhering to the company's own narrative-driven wishes—Powell's Books allows "both righteous and deplorable books" to share its virtual and physical shelves.
"As an independent bookstore, Powell's believes that it is our responsibility to respect your choice of reading material," the letter later recapitulated. "We are dedicated to providing a wide array of books, authors, viewpoints, and voices, and our selection is one of the things that sets Powell’s apart from our peers in bookselling."
These options are provided "out of deference to the First Amendment" and because Powell's Books believes that exposure to a multiplicity of writing—in fiction and nonfiction alike—"facilitates critical thinking and spurs conversation and growth."
Powell's Books house materials that contain ideas that "run counter" to the "values of safety, equality, and justice" that the company and its employees uphold. The message pointed out that many also read these books to inform themselves about events, learn about local and global history, and understand the arguments of people and groups with whom they might disagree.
"While we understand that our decision to carry such books upsets some customers and staff members, we do not want to create an echo chamber of preapproved voices and ideas," Powell's Book restated. "It is not our mission or inclination to decide to whom our customers should listen."
In response to why Powell's Books would not make an exception to the company's policy for a book as "inflammatory" as Unmasked, the bookstore claimed that the work was written by a "provocateur who has made a career of inciting violence over inflammatory and inaccurate ideas that divide people into factions."
"It is natural that [Ngo's] supporters and detractors have passionate, emotional responses to our carrying his book online," Powell's Books wrote, reiterating that while this tension feels "new and raw," the backlash is common for the company.
Making an exception for Unmasked or any other book "erodes the strength and purpose of that value" as booksellers, Powell's Books doubled downed. "Why would you carry books you find deplorable?" the company asked and then answered: "Booksellers are not censors."
"We have the privilege to curate, promote, and act as guides to the books and ideas we value, but it is antithetical to our core mission of free speech to impose limits on what our customers read," Powell's Books asserted. "At the end of the day, making space for books and readers with whom we disagree is the nonviolent antithesis to the dominant impulse to shout down (or worse) anyone who doesn’t support your worldview, something we see daily on social media and, more terrifyingly, in America's seats of power."
Powell's Books concluded: "Given the choice between holding our noses over a book and bowing to pressure to begin banning them, we will always choose the former."
"Our reading lists, blog posts, and store displays highlight and promote our support for minority voices, racial justice, and human rights. We will use our platform to amplify righteous causes," Powell's Book interjected. "We will, however, also continue to carry a broad inventory because we believe it is the best way to do the fundamental work of bookselling, which is to make available and disseminate ideas and foster dialogue."
Responding to why the company would sell Ngo's book online but not in stores, Powell's Books stated that even a store as large as the City of Books "can't carry every book on the market."
To expand offerings for their customers, Powell's Books and numerous other retailers make the catalogs of their distributors and publishing partners available for purchase online. "This is how a book like Unmasked, which our buyers did not purchase for the stores, finds its way onto Powells.com," the company replied.
"Ms. Powell should reconsider if she truly stands by neutrality and freedom of speech when she so easily condemns a book she hasn't read," Ngo told The Post Millennial, noting that Unmasked is still weeks out from release.
On Monday, Portland's iconic bookseller announced that it would not place Unmasked on its physical shelves, but that the book will remain in its online catalog. Powell's announcement was the result of demands from Antifa groups on social media for the store to be boycotted and picketed for carrying Ngo's book.
"We carry a lot of books we find abhorrent, as well as those that we treasure," Powell's Books tweeted at the time, echoing similar sentiments.
Social justice calls ignited over the weekend forcing Powell's Books to shut down and evacuate patrons amid the unrest. Police responded to monitor the scene.
Ironically, the attention-seeking Antifa activists hellbent on suppressing sales have blindly advertised the literature's ability to rattle the unhinged without one page even read by condescending eyes. The far-left's attempts to ban Ngo's book has helped the literature to garner unintended publicity, propelling his work to the top of the Amazon's best sellers chart in just two days.
Before the controversy ignited, the book took the No. 1,616 spot. Now Ngo's product sits three spots above former President Barack Obama's memoir and right above the George Orwell classic 1984.
Ngo, who is an editor-at-large at The Post Millennial, covers Antifa and radical left-wing violence. He gained national exposure after Antifa militants assaulted him last year in downtown Portland. His articles and posts have documented the onslaught of terror caused by the extremist movement in the Rose City and across the nation. Unmasked is available for pre-order and will ship in February.
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